Trail Blazers-Hawks Preview
As the Atlanta Hawks continue to roll, the Portland Trail Blazers are mired in their worst stretch of the season.
Looking to surpass their victory total from last season, the Hawks can extend their team-record winning streak to 18 by handing the Trail Blazers a fifth consecutive road defeat Friday night.
Paul Millsap had 28 points with 15 rebounds and Al Horford added 20 points, 10 boards and five assists to lift Atlanta (38-8) to a 113-102 victory over pesky Brooklyn on Wednesday. Leading Toronto by seven games in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have won 31 of 33 and own the longest winning streak in the NBA in 2014-15.
San Antonio won 19 in a row last season.
”We’re trying to grow and improve,” said coach Mike Budenholzer, whose team made the playoffs last season as the eighth seed with a 38-44 record.
”We want to keep our mindset there, just play each night, go out there and compete. That’s been good for us so far.”
Millsap has averaged 23.3 points in three games, and his 3-pointer from the corner with 2:34 remaining Wednesday helped end a Nets charge and kept the Hawks in control.
”Paul was aggressive,” said Horford, who has averaged 18.3 points, 74.1 percent shooting, 8.1 boards and 5.4 assists in his last eight contests. ”When he plays like that, we’re tough to beat.”
The Hawks, who lead the NBA in scoring defense at 96.3 points per game, had allowed 90.1 while holding eight straight opponents to fewer than 100. They’ll try to tighten things back up after Minnesota reached 100 on Sunday and the Nets totaled two more.
"We’ve got to learn from it and get better," forward DeMarre Carroll said.
The teams’ first meeting of the season was Jan. 3, with Atlanta shooting 51.2 percent to overcome LaMarcus Aldridge’s 30 points and 12 rebounds and snap a three-game skid in the series with a 115-107 win. Millsap scored 27 and Jeff Teague added 22 for the Hawks, who had five other players with at least 10 points.
The Northwest Division-leading Trail Blazers (32-14) followed that defeat with four straight victories but have since dropped six of eight, including a season-high four in a row on the road.
Portland held a Cleveland team that was missing LeBron James to 40.0 percent shooting but couldn’t contain Kyrie Irving, who scored 55 points and hit 11 3-pointers in Wednesday’s 99-94 road defeat.
Aldridge had 38 points and 11 boards, but Cavaliers scored 31 in the first quarter – the sixth time in eight games that the Blazers have given up at least 30 points in the first 12 minutes.
"We’ve had some slow starts the last seven, eight games in the first quarters," point guard Damian Lillard told the team’s official website. "We get better over the course of the game but I think we’ve just got to be able to do it for 48 minutes instead of waiting until it’s a dogfight to just kind of lock down and do what we need to do."
Portland averaged 106.1 points while winning 12 of its previous 15 road contests but has been held to fewer than 100 in three of the last four. It last dropped five straight on the road in 2012-13.
Aldridge has totaled 64 points in two games since deciding to delay thumb surgery until after the season.
"We’re trying to win," he said. "If I’m going to play, I’m going to play. If it gets hit, it’s going to hurt or whatever. But I’m going to play until it’s too much, and right now it’s not."